Anne here, talking about parasols, which seem to have gone out of fashion, and brollies, which seem eternal. (Do you know the term 'brollies'? It's a slang term for umbrellas, but I'm not sure if it's used in the USA.)
I've always had a fascination with brollies and parasols, and for many years had this poster on display in my office. Gorgeous, isn't it — a vintage poster from 1925 advertising transport to the Summer Sales in the UK— clearly a much damper season than it is in Australia.
If you're interested in etymology, the word parasol is made up of para, meaning to stop or shield and sol meaning sun. The French for umbrella is parapluie, pluie meaning rain, but the English word comes from the Latin umbra or the Greek ombros, meaning shade, and elle meaning small — and thus an umbrella means small shadow, and the earliest references to it in English seem to indicate it was a sunshade, rather than rain protection.
According to the OED, an early mention of an umbrella was in 1611 by T. Coryate: "Many of them doe carry other fine things.., which they commonly call in the Italian tongue vmbrellaes… These are made of leather something answerable to the forme of a little cannopy & hooped in the inside with divers little wooden hoopes that extend the vmbrella in a prety large compasse."
A leather umbrella would be pretty heavy to carry I guess. When my parents lived in Malaysia, we went traveling up to Thailand and I fell in love with the gorgeous oiled paper and bamboo parasols to be found there, but they were pretty heavy, too. I used them for lampshades and for decoration, but almost never as a sun-shade or umbrella, for though they were reputed to repel water, I never wanted to risk it.
Whatever the purpose, they've been around for centuries. In Ancient Egypt a parasol was used to protect the tender heads of royalty. Here's a parasol fixed to a carriage, found in the entombed Chinese terracotta army of 210 BC. In ancient Greece, a parasols were widely used among well-born ladies. The Chinese style of umbrella or parasol probably came to western Europe via trade and the Silk Road, and mentions are made of them from around the middle of the 17th century.
In England, before 1800, parasols were invariably made of green fabric, perhaps because the green-tinted shade would moderate a rosily flushed complexion. Here's a painting of a young Jane Austen, holding a green parasol. (Jane Austen, by Ozias Humphry, 1788.) After 1800 parasols became smaller.
But I fell in love with parasols because of the many gorgeous paintings of them, perhaps because they came into fashion around the end of the 18th century, and also perhaps because they were so suited to the light, lush style of painting the Impressionists brought.
My favorites are from the Australian painter E. Phillips Fox (1865-1915) and from Karl Albert Buehr (1866-1952) a German-born American painter, who painted so many lush, colorful paintings with parasols. That's a Buehr on the right.
Here's a lovely family scene from E. Phillips Fox.
Or this? — it's another gorgeous Buehr painting.
What about you — do you own a parasol? I presume you own a brolly — do you call it a brolly or umbrella or something different? And if you could be in one of these paintings, which would you choose, and what would you be doing?